“The commitment of international organizations in the pursuit of the social, political, economic, and cultural wellbeing of the individual and nations.”
Good morning, Dr. Yanibel Abrego Smith, president of the Assembly of Panama; Gabriela Lara, general director of the Global Embassy of Activists for Peace; Mr. Luis Eduardo Quirós, president of the Commission of Education, Culture, Technology, and Communication of Parlatino; distinguished national and international representatives.
It is a great honor for me to be present with you today on behalf of the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro, to attend the third edition of the Peace Integration Summit. The Secretary General asked me especially to send a greeting to Dr. Soto Santiago, who I ask you to transmit to him in Puerto Rico.
And as you mentioned in your kind introduction, I am Secretary of Hemispheric Affairs at the OAS. It is a pleasure to accompany you in this extraordinary site of Parlatino here in Panama City.
Before entering into the topic of the conference, which is “The commitment of international organizations in the pursuit of the social, political, economic, and cultural wellbeing of the individual and nations," I would like to congratulate the Global Embassy of Activists for Peace for their work and the tangible results they have generated, as Secretary Almagro mentioned when he participated in the last Summit in Paraguay: "We are embracing the same challenges in the hemisphere; that is, poverty, exclusion, lack of education, and health "; and I hope you take my presence here as a sign of solidarity and appreciation.
International or multilateral organizations are an essential element in helping global communities to advance the social, political, economic and cultural well-being of their environment. I say "communities" instead of "States", because to achieve impact it is no longer enough to gather high-level representatives of the member states of multilateral organizations.
To have a real impact, a much more inclusive approach is needed to bring together government representatives with other branches of the State: parliamentarians, judges, and centers of excellence. That, broadly speaking, implies involving a full range of social actors from civil society towards our indigenous peoples or, as we call them in Canada, the first nations of our continent, who really know what caring for Mother Earth is.
The multilateral system in its very existence makes an important contribution; the existence of a system based on rules does not allow the great powers to define or manipulate the international system for their benefit. After the World War II, the existence of these institutions allowed the considerable reduction of conflicts between countries and regions. In this sense, our hemisphere set an important example: The Pan American Union, the institution that preceded the OAS, was formed in 1889; and through the series of treaties and agreements negotiated throughout its existence, our hemisphere lived a long period without cross-border conflict throughout the twentieth century.
Obviously, the absence of war in our hemispheres, between countries, for more than 100 years, and in the entire world, the notable decrease in cross-border violence after the World War II, does not indicate the end either of violence or of injustice, or inequality.
In some cases, the rules put into effect (for example, to liberalize our economies), not accompanied by social cushioning and smart policies to form labor markets, have generated more exclusion and social tensions. That is why I say that the complexity of our societies in the 21st century demands multilateral institutions that are much more committed and inhibiting.
At the end of the Cold War, gave to us the opportunities of the 1990s to rethink the role of international organizations. Traditional concepts, such as incontestable sovereignty, had to be rethought. Innovative ideas emerged, as is the responsibility to protect. In the case of the OAS, in 2001 the Inter-American Democratic Charter was approved, which agreed that, in the face of possible ruptures of the constitutional order in certain countries, the sovereign powers are not unlimited; particularly when they clash with fundamental democratic values and human rights.
An important step was taken at the United Nations at the turn of the new century with the proclamation of the Millennium Goals. These established a series of measurable criteria regarding human well-being (that is, in the sectors of health, education, environment, and others) to make sense of our actions as governments or institutions and to refocus our work in favor of our communities.
This has just been renewed in the form of a global commitment to the 2030 Agenda, in which world leaders agreed on a series of goals necessary to make a fundamental change in favor of our citizens.
One of the advantages of this way of encompassing the challenges that we face as an international community, is to give quantifiable results and to make transparent, to a certain extent, not only the achievements and shortcomings, but also who the beneficiaries are.
One of the conclusions derived as a result of this, is that, despite a period of significant growth, Latin America and the Caribbean continues to be the region most marked by inequality in the world.
Let me then speak for a moment about how the OAS responds to this challenge of regional well-being, and particularly the new approach that Secretary General Almagro has given since his arrival in 2015 in favor of more rights for more people.
Like any international body, the OAS is constantly evolving. If one considers its origin in 1948, when it was formed on the basis of the Pan American Union, there was a strong ideological element; that is to say, the OAS was frankly born formed by the moments from the Cold War with an anti-communist mission. We agree that in that period, and until the 70s, the governments of the region had strong military and authoritarian characteristics.
The democratic flourishing of the region, accompanied by an important growth in its membership with the decolonization of the Caribbean, allowed the transformation of the OAS into a much less ideological organization and much more characterized by its technical excellence built on four pillars: democracy, multidimensional security, human rights, and development.
Each of these four pillars had a sensitive component, which was to overcome the resistance of many countries to a multilateral entity to ensure its internal conditions; but little by little it became reality.
One of the most important steps in the 90s was the formation within the OAS of the so-called Unit for the Promotion of Democracy. In the first place, this new entity allowed the OAS to become one of the centers of excellence in the world in the handling of electoral observation missions. With the conclusion of Resolution 1080, in 1991, the region accepted representative democracy as an essential value; and that was further consolidated in 2001 with the conclusion of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which continues to be a transcendental reference in the region.
We all know that, however important the electoral processes may be, other important factors are imposed in qualifying the democratic quality in our countries. Democratic governance, which impacts the well-being of our peoples, is affected in an important way by other phenomena, such as the separation of powers, the professionalization of public services, freedom of press, and government transparency.
The Unit for the Promotion of Democracy then became the Department of Effective Public Management, which today launches a series of projects with the purpose of strengthening these elements that greatly impact the quality of democratic government in the region.
The work of the OAS in favor of the promotion of human rights is also familiar to many of you. The activities of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission of Women increasingly allow for better monitoring of respect for fundamental rights.
The light that these instruments place on the observation of political, civil, economic, and social rights in the hemisphere, serves as a deterrent to condition the actions of the political, judicial, and police authorities in the region. Unfortunately, there are opposing forces, such as drug trafficking, gangs, corruption, which endanger the process we have achieved so far; something that demands new creativity and commitment from the national and regional authorities at this moment.
I consider myself, then, fortunate that my arrival at the OAS coincided with a new Secretary General, who has a vision and a renewed energy to cover these challenges. Luis Almagro has managed to see the key elements to deliver on his commitment to more rights for more people.
First, an important political will to ensure democratic values and defend the Inter-American Democratic Charter. His determination in this regard (most visibly in the case of Venezuela) has given a new luster to the OAS and serves to pull toward its original mandate, which is to serve as the first inter-American body for the resolution of regional political problems.
Second, he has covered the financial and administrative problems of the Organization itself, bringing a new focus on management by results. In this he has insisted on a direct link between the priorities articulated by the Member States and the activities of the institution.
It sounds easy that way, but it is not a simple matter for 34 countries with different ideas and cultures to agree on institutional priorities. This process took two years of effort, but this ended when in June of this year, at the General Assembly held in Cancun, the member states agreed on a new budget with a significant redistribution of resources towards the institutions responsible for defending human rights, gender, and of childhood and youth.
An important injection of resources for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Inter-American Commission of Women, the American Institute for Children and Adolescents, is an important achievement not only for institutional relevance, but also to answer this question of how to increase the well-being of the region.
Another challenge the OAS is in the process of addressing, and perhaps the most ominous and persistent, is that of corruption. The threat of corruption in democratic governance in our countries has long been central to the work plan of the OAS. Article 4 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter establishes that the exercise of democracy, the transparency of governmental activities, probity, and the responsibility of Governments in public administration, respect for social rights and freedom of expression and of press, are fundamental components.
The constitutional subordination of all State institutions to legally constituted civil authority, and respect for the rule of law of all entities and sectors of society are equally fundamental to democracy.
Corruption is one of the most serious problems facing not only the region, but also the world in general. It represents an obstacle to development, economic growth, the fight against inequality, the strengthening of institutions, and the legitimacy of democracy and the political system.
According to International Transparency, 69% of the 176 countries included in the Corruption Perception Index in 2016, scored below 50 on a scale that reaches 100, where 50 or more indicates lower levels of corruption. This highlights the evidence of the massive and widespread nature of corruption in the public sector throughout the world. For the same period, Latin America shows a decrease with an average score of 44; Only 4 countries in the region, including Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil, presented improvements.
Corruption today is more complex, more visible, and sophisticated. Corruption not only affects the public sector, but represents a danger to national development, including the quality of important programs that affect the education, health, and environmental sectors.
It also has highly damaging effects on the private sector. Annually companies and individuals pay around 1.5 billion in bribes, which is equivalent to 2% of world GDP and 10 times the value of development assistance; figures that in some countries of the region seem to be even higher.
The damage caused by corruption to development is, in fact, a multiple of the estimated figure, given the negative impact of corruption on the poorest, most vulnerable population, and on economic growth.
Beyond these indicators, reality shows that systematic corruption and social inequality reinforce each other, creating a vicious circle between corruption, the unequal distribution of power in society and inequality in the distribution of wealth, in turn causing the disappointment of the people towards the political class and the democratic system.
The OAS has played and plays a central role in corruption, highlighted on the one hand by the promotion and adoption of the Inter-American Convention against Corruption, the first legal instrument adopted in 1996 and ratified by 33 of the 34 member states of the member states of the OAS, as well as the creation and operation of the Follow-up Mechanism for the Implementation of said convention, or the MESICIC.
The MESICIC, the Mechanism, is an intergovernmental mechanism with wide participation spaces for civil society, which is responsible for supporting the States parties in the implementation of this convention.
As many of you will know, the Summit of the Americas (which will be held in Lima in April 2018) will focus on a critical issue, which is "Democratic governance against corruption." Preparations for this Summit are well advanced, including the discussion of interesting new proposals, such as a possible Inter-American Court against Corruption, to deal with cases of great corruption and state capture in the region.
From my point of view it is an important achievement that the host of the Summit (Peru) together with the Summits Secretariat (which I have to supervise), is putting on the table, for the consideration of the leaders, this problem that has undermined the progress in our region.
Well, in conclusion, I reiterate that I am very pleased to share with you some considerations on the impact that international organizations can have on the welfare of the hemisphere.
Multilateral institutions serve the interests of the international community as they enforce party rules. Greater transparency and the use of clear indicators, such as the Sustainable Development Goals, put a magnifying glass on our performance.
Finally, a better management of the institutions, aligning our few resources with the real challenges, and a good dose of courage and political will —as Dr. Soto mentioned— will lead us to a better future for all; objective that we fully share with all of you.
Thank you very much.
Yes, as indicated by the representative of the OAS, Mr. James Matthew, we were in Paraguay with the Secretary General of the OAS and it is the same address shared with you in the main lines of the inter-American organization.
Important what you mention of the Summit of the Americas in 2018, on the subject of corruption; and the United Nations has adopted a Treaty against Corruption and in America there are also legal instruments at the national level.
The pointing out, also, of the three efforts that have been made in the case of democratic values; the Inter-American Charter; the financial problem, which is difficult for international organizations; and, of course, the issue of corruption, very important.
Very good the annotation that we are at the regional level, the first instance since 1889 with the Pan-American Union, even when it came, in 1948, the Organization of American States was created.